How to build a wine collection

Sommeliers share the best-kept secrets of a personal cellar

Many aspiring connoisseurs have made mistakes when starting their first wine collection. We’ve asked four sommeliers and wine educators to share insights that’ll help you dodge those pitfalls.

Any ground rules for starting a wine collection?

Moses Magwaza recommends finding a reliable wine shop where you can find personalised advice – they also often host tastings. “They will be able to tell you whether a wine can be stored for a few years or if you should drink it within the next few months.”

“Grab a Platter’s guide, as pretty much everything you need to know can be found at the back,” says Kathryn Rae. “For reds, try catering to palate preferences for full-bodied and tannic wines, as well as lighter, fruit-forward wines.”

“Keep a few bottles of good sparkling wine as a starting point,” suggests Tinashe Mukosi. “It’s also wise to keep light, crisp white wines – Riesling, Muscat or Chenin Blanc – and easy-drinking reds – Pinot Noir, Cinsaut and Grenache – on hand.”

Is bigger always better?

Wine usually ages better in bigger bottles (there is less air passing through the cork and more wine in the bottle), so it’s always worth checking out large-format wines if you have the right storage conditions.

“Magnums can age beautifully,” says Roxan Waldeck. “A magnum holds the equivalent of two bottles of wine, perfect for about 12 people, but it’s a lot trickier to pour than you think. I recommend decanting a portion of the bottle, allowing the wine time to breathe, then pouring the wine into the glasses.”


Advice for matching wine with cheese?

Moses delves into details: “Red wines like Cotes du Rhône and Grenache go well with semi-hard cheeses; Tempranillo and Syrah with hard sheep’s-milk cheeses; Pinot Noir with nutty cow’s-milk cheeses, and Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot with aged cow’s-milk cheeses. White wines such as Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc will go well with goat’s cheese; Chardonnay, Semillon and Viognier with cream cheeses; dry rosé with mozzarella; Champagne and sparkling wines with soft-rind cheeses, and sweet wines with blue-veined cheeses and Gorgonzola.”

According to Tinashe, texture is also a key element. “The secret is mastering the mouthfeel of the cheese, then finding a wine that complements it. Creamy, soft cheeses go well with MCC, for example.”


Best practice when storing bottles to age?

Never have we had more wines to choose from, but smaller spaces in which to store them. How do we keep our most precious bottles safe? “It depends on your limitations and how seriously you wish to grow a collection for ageing,” says Kathryn. “A basic consideration is that there should be little fluctuation of temperature, light and humidity, and no vibrations. If you have a pantry cupboard, that could work fine.”

Advice from Moses: “If the bottle has a cork, always lie it down to keep the cork moist. If it shrinks, the wine will spoil.”

South Africa’s best-kept wine secret?

“You’ll find a hidden treasure when you drive through the Huguenot Tunnel in the Western Cape and head for the Robertson Valley,” says Roxan.

“Definitely Elim, near Cape Agulhas,” says Tinashe. “We’re talking some of the oldest soils, which add structure and strength to the wines.”